In Italian, a “porchetta” means “a small roast of pork” and, in days gone by, was exactly that, a roast suckling pig, seasoned any number of ways. (The ancient Roman recipe included the kid’s “liver and spleen” so, at base, it seasoned itself.) Nowadays, neither the insides nor the outsides of kitchens commonly see suckling pig. In both Italy and everywhere else, porchetta has come to be a rolled-up, highly seasoned, then roasted mass of pork - a big square of belly, a butterflied shoulder, sometimes either surrounding a core of loin. The Sardinians roast a sort of turducken porchetta, the accarrexiau, a whole sheep stuffed with a suckling pig. (The Baba-Oink?)
To prepare porchetta, cooks make a paste of olive oil (or lard) mashed with garlic, showers of both ground black pepper and kosher or sea salt, and much aromatic herbing. While one camp touts rosemary, another extols thyme, still another both. Some add chili flakes. Most agree that porchetta ought to whisper of anise and, so, add fennel seed or, for the profligate, pollen.
Because it contains no bones and is the same configuration of meat, fat, skin and flavorings along its entire length, the finished porchetta makes for an equitable distribution of awesomeness. It is a no-Fight-Club roast, perfect to take center stage on a holiday dinner table or, heck, to turn any Sunday into a fiesta. As an everyday food, porchetta finds itself tucked into the slice on a crusty ciabatta roll or other bread, often nestled up against slices of pickled red onion or leaves of pungent greens such as arugula or basil.
It never is without, however, some of its crackling skin, crisp enough to cut your lip. Those cracklings have punctuated its delicious story for centuries.
~ Bill St. John